Making money on webcomics is still a tricky proposition. There have been some successes, but following their examples are usually not a template anyone can follow. (Not everyone, for example, can tranform into a popular convention like Penny Arcade or drive on-site advertising like The Oatmeal.) Rich Burlew, of Order of the Stick found another way to raise money: by setting up a Kickstarter fund to accrue half-a-million dollars to put Order of the Stick in print.
This makes it the most funded creative work in Kickstarter history.
From Comics Alliance:
CA: … As of right now, you’re at almost ten times your initial goal, and you’re officially the most funded creative work in Kickstarter history.
RB: Yeah, it’s sort of insane. What’s really surprised me has been the number of people who have never bought an Order of the Stick book before that have decided to buy the entire line of seven books in one go. I didn’t see that coming. I thought I was going to mostly be appealing to the people who had bought maybe three or four of them but were missing the odd volume. But even if you had told me that was what was going to happen, I still wouldn’t have grasped how successful this thing would be. I think it’s ungraspable.
CA: That’s one of the things that I thought was really interesting, though: how you geared the rewards so that they’d be things that would appeal to people who had all the books as well as the readers that had never picked them up. As a fan of the strip, the bonus stories in particular were what hooked me.
RB: And that was sort of serendipitous, because I planned it that way largely because I thought there would be only limited response to the actual reprinting of the book. I figured that I needed something that would grab the attention of people who either had all of the books or didn’t want them. And I thought that the one thing I know everyone who reads the comic would like is…more comic! I had some ideas bumping around that I thought were good but not long enough to form a book on their own, so I decided, hey, I’ll just draw those.
I think it’s to my unintentional benefit that OOTS has such a continuous, interconnected plot that people want to find out more about the minor characters and what they did before they intersected with the main story. I’m not sure I would be able to get people interested in bonus stories if the strip was a more traditional “gag-a-day” comic.
CA: Considering the initial response, people were obviously pretty excited about that first set of rewards. Why did you decide to keep adding to it as the drive went on?
RB: I kept hitting more goals! And every time I hit a goal that allowed a book to be reprinted, everyone wanted to be able to add that book into their rewards. So I would put it up. And then, I started getting requests from longtime readers who already owned every book and wanted to help out with the drive. They basically started asking me for more ways to send me money to help out! This blew me away. So I started adding more and more options for rewards, and for every possible permutation of the existing rewards, until the reward column is the lengthy mess it is today. If Kickstarter allowed “á la carte” reward options, it would be half the length it is now.
Here’s what I like about this: the donations were, for the most part, directly related to the comic itself. Previous methods of raising cash — such as, say, selling T-shirts that feature a catchphrase but no characters besides the ones drawn for parody purposes — seem to be a little embarrassed of their webcomic origins. This is a webcomic effort through and through. Fans appreciated the comic. They donated money. As a result, Mr. Burlew can print out the comic … and the entire, previously unavailable archives.
The best part is what happens if we go over that goal, though. The more that is pledged, the more copies can be printed, ensuring that the book stays available for new readers in the coming years. But if we get enough money, we can also reprint our original prequel book, The Order of the Stick: On the Origin of PCs, which has been out-of-print for almost as long. Since this is a portion of the story that has only ever been available in print, that’ll let more people discover the otherwise-hidden origins of Roy, Haley, and the rest of the Order of the Stick.